Scientists Are Using Fake Turtle …

When Helen Pheasey encounters poachers on Costa Rican beaches at night, she no longer tries to shoo them away. Instead, she actually hopes they’ll take eggs from a sea turtle nest she’s been monitoring. That’s because those nests contain a GPS tracking device disguised as an egg, and getting poachers to take them is key in her quest to understand the black market for turtle eggs, a favorite bar snack here in Costa Rica.

The GPS-enabled fake turtle eggs are the brainchild of Kim Williams-Guillén, an ecologist for the NGO Paso Pacifico, who lives on her own pig farm in Detroit.

In 2016, she entered a competition put together by the U.S. government that aimed to foster tech-based ideas that could expose, and stop, the illegal trade in animal parts. Hers was one of the winning ideas. Now, Williams-Guillén collaborates with Pheasey, who’s testing the decoy eggs in Costa Rica.

Some of the eggs found in bars are part of Costa Rica’s heavily regulated, small legal trade, but many are sourced and sold illegally by poachers.

“You basically do a shot; they will usually do it with alcohol, but the egg itself is in a tomato salsa and chili,” says Pheasey, a conservation biologist at the University of Kent, in the UK.

Because almost all sea turtle species are endangered, that’s a practice that Pheasey and other conservationists would like to see end.

The decoy egg project is the first of its kind, Pheasey says, so she’s still figuring out how best to prepare and plant the 3D-printed eggs.

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